July 11, 1997

This substance that the body breaks down into two hormones - estrogen and testosterone - is being sold to improve energy, strength and immunity, to increase muscle and decrease fat and as an anti-aging remedy. But, according to National Institute on Aging, there is no reliable evidence for these claims.


Staff Writer

When former Hagerstown Mayor Steve Sager tried to fill a prescription for DHEA five years ago, the only place he could find it was a pharmacy in Madison, Wis.

Waynesboro, Pa., resident Pat Nickels learned about DHEA while she was taking hormones for menopausal hot flashes.

The hormones caused unpleasant side effects, such as swelling, Nickels said.

Nickels thought DHEA, a substance the body breaks down into two hormones - estrogen and testosterone, might help her, but she couldn't find it locally. She had to get it from Mexico.

Now DHEA is readily available over-the-counter at area health-food stores, drugstores, even grocery store pharmacies. Because DHEA is sold as a dietary supplement, it's available without a doctor's prescription and does not require approval by Food and Drug Adminstration.


National Institute on Aging, part of National Institutes of Health, has reported that DHEA supplements are being sold as an anti-aging remedy and are claimed to improve energy, strength and immunity and to increase muscle and decrease fat. There is no reliable evidence for these claims at this time, according to NIA.

Sager's DHEA was prescribed by a Belgian doctor he had consulted in his search for answers to complex medical conditions which include seasonal affective disorder. Sager also has low thyroid and adrenal gland function. He said arriving at the proper dosage has been trial and error, but he believes DHEA does increase his energy level.

Nickels also is pleased with DHEA. She no longer has the menopausal symptoms or the unpleasant side effects of the hormones.

Others are taking DHEA for nonmedical reasons.

Thirty-seven-year-old Patrick Graves is one of them. He works out four days a week for an hour to an hour and 15 minutes. Graves said he did a lot of reading about the supplement before he started taking 100 milligrams daily about a year ago. He believes it burns fat and promotes lean muscle mass. He also feels it promotes clear thinking and general well-being.

DHEA is a big seller at General Nutrition Center, the health-food store Harold Levey has owned and operated on Pennsylvania Avenue in Hagerstown for about six years. Levey has been selling the hormone capsules for about eight or nine months and taking them for about two or three months. He believes in DHEA's ability to increase energy, enhance memory and reduce stress.

The usual dosage is 25 milligrams for women and 50 milligrams for men, according to Tariq Anwar, owner of Healthway Natural Foods on Dual Highway in Hagerstown. Slow-release formulas are available. Prices, which vary with dosage and manufacturer, range from about $15 to $24 for a two-month supply.

Nancy Lindewurth, a nutritionist and owner of The Gentle Nudge health food store on Robinwood Drive in Hagerstown, encourages people to have a blood test to check their level of DHEA and cautions them not to take too much.

The quest for the fountain of youth has been going on for a long time. Dr. Stephen S. Lippman, a Hagerstown endocrinologist, cited a Sherlock Holmes mystery in which monkeys were being stolen for the age-preventing properties of their testicles.

DHEA is not the fountain of youth, Lippman said. He attributed some of the current interest in anti-aging therapies to the growing number of aging endocrinologists.

Lippman attended a recent Endocrine Society meeting where 20 of about 2,000 research abstracts presented had to do with DHEA. In general, studies show that DHEA has a small effect on a variety of things, Lippman said.

Lippman said there is no evidence that DHEA is dangerous, but he doesn't prescribe it because he believes other drugs can provide better results.

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